Loss of the Law, by Kari Anderson of the CLCC

(The Confessional Lutherans for Christ’s Commission is one of the many confessional groups that regularly posts on this website. Like BJS they seek to equip laymen to know and support Confessional Lutheranism. CLCC posts are archived on the Regular Columns page of this website.)




In our society, people have become very uncomfortable about admitting to the existence of sin in their lives. Our egos are too important for that, hence we can’t allow anyone to tell us we are wrong in what we do or believe. That belief is prevalent, and sadly, it is even permeating into the church. Many churches accept behaviors now that the Word says are sinful. They accept these behaviors because the world says they are okay. They don’t listen to the Word of God anymore, but have decided that since times are different, God also must be different. (In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25) They don’t realize that when the Law and sin disappear from the Christian faith, so does the need we have for receiving the precious Gospel. (The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 1 Timothy 1:15)

Many people don’t think that losing the Law hurts the Gospel. After all, God is love, isn’t He? (So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 1 John 4:16) We are saved by grace. While this is most certainly true, they don’t realize that unless we are sinners, we have no need of a Savior who forgives those sins. He forgives us, because we have grace (God’s undeserved love) through faith. Yet, in order to receive that gift of grace, we are to be penitent, humble sinners at the foot of the cross. (And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17)

The belief that many people, as well as churches, used to have in original sin has also disappeared. With that, the realization, the Truth stated in Scripture that death entered the world through sin is also gone. (The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:56-57) With the denial of “Original Sin”, (Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Psalm 51:5) they see no reason why infants have need of Baptism either. Yet, we know babies are sinners, since babies are able to die. People need to see the wages of sin when they see death. (For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23)

Once sin becomes something that we think can be overcome, Jesus becomes an example on how to live our life. Then hope is found in the world around us. The comfort received is not in their Baptismal grace, when they were adopted by God as His child, and cleansed of their sin and unrighteousness, but in the friends they have made and the life they have lived in the world. The world is the place we serve our neighbors through our vocations, which is a good thing, but it isn’t meant to be where we place our hope.

When the Holy Spirit is not allowed to work in us through the Law and show us our sinfulness, we naturally start to rely on our own self and count on our own righteousness. When the flesh is not killed, the new self cannot rise to new life. Our new life is in Christ given to us on the day we were baptized. He is our hope and our salvation. We need the Law, in order to be given that most precious gift of forgiveness. How can we be forgiven if we don’t admit to being in need of forgiveness? (If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10)

During Lent, as well as at all other times, we need to be aware of why Christ came to die for us. We need to be at the foot of the cross and fix our eyes on Jesus. (looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2)

I pray that we Christians start to appreciate the importance of the Law, even as it makes us see our fallen sinfulness, because then we can rejoice in the sweet, precious Gospel, and the One who not only came to save us, but did save us through His suffering, death, and resurrection for time and eternity!

Kari Anderson
March 16, 2011

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord, LCMSsermons.com, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.


Loss of the Law, by Kari Anderson of the CLCC — 45 Comments

  1. Thanks for this excellent article. We learn to appreciate the Law because we see more and more each day why we need it. Rom. 7:1-6 expounds, how, in fcat, we wouldn’t know what (for example) coveting is except for the commandment against it. Through the Law we learn the bounds beyond which our Lord calls us not to go.

    But, we can learn from this article even more because it shows us who is the end of the Law and to whom the Law points us, namely, Jesus Christ our Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil. (Rom. 10:4) Thanks be to Jesus who has fulfilled the Law for us and grants us to trust Him for salvation.

  2. Good job Kari.

    This article shows why it is important to understand the difference between the Law & the Gospel and why both are so necessary. Without the Law, we don’t really need the Gospel and without the Gospel, we have no peace and salvation.

    I recommend the recently published Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible based on Walther’s Friday evening lectures. A very readable book for the laity. You can get it from CPH.

  3. Kari – thanks for the post. You have presented is a very Lutheran understanding of Law/Gospel and I agree with it.

    That said, I think your statement that “many churches accept behaviors now that the Word says are sinful” is a too simple generalization and potentially could lead to a decidedly un-Lutheran understanding of Law/Gospel. Moreover, to the extent that statement is correct, I think it is a stretch to conclude, therefore, that those churches have given up on the Law.

    I think it would be more correct to begin with the premise that every Lutheran church accepts sinners – people who engage in behaviors that the Word says are sinful. Every Lutheran church accepts people who know they are sinners, who know they have been forgiven, yet who continue to sin. If that were not the case, our pews and our pulpits would be empty!

    We have difficulty in appreciating the importance of the Law because some sins are easier to disguise than others. As sinful people, we are tempted to rank order sins such that the sins that I commit are not as egregious as those that you might commit.

    The challenge is how do we decide which sinners with whom it is appropriate to fellowship. Based on the doctrine of justification, the standard ought to be all who profess that they are sinners, who profess that they are in need of God’s grace and who profess that God’s promises of forgiveness and salvation have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

  4. The belief that many people, as well as churches, used to have in original sin has also disappeared.

    It is difficult to tell but I think the designation “many people” above and elsewhere in the article refers to a population not necessarily Christian. In that case why should we be surprised or even interested to discover that they don’t hold to our articles of faith?

  5. @#4 Kitty #4
    You’re absolutely right. Original sin isn’t being preached as much in our own synod’s congregations, let alone beyond the bounds of our synhod. People want to know something’s wrong or a mistake or an accident so that they know how to fix it. The teaching on original sin, as it affects us, shows we are sinners, a fact we ourselves cannot change or curb or avoid.

    We rejoice, however, in JesusChrist, the One and Only way of salvation and Redeemer from the curse of original sin. The fact that Jesus is the one and only way to eternal life makes many people turn away and, thus, disregard of original sin.

    At the same time, it is important to deliniate the between the broken relationships because of original sin. 1. Man with God, 2. Man with man and 3. Man with nature.

    Today’s Gospel reading shows Jesus’ work of addressing all three.
    1. He declares Himself to be the Light of the world who opens our eyes of faith to trust in Him and not in ourselves.
    2. He sets aside any fault between man and man in the case of the born-blind-guy in saying his condition was not the result of parental or his own actual sin.
    3. He shows this in His service of mercy on the man born blind, by restoring his sight. Of course, this is Jesus’ act proclaiming what He will do in redeeming nature from original sin’s fall-out upon His return on the Last Day.

    So, to have a weakened view of original sin is to have a weakened view of our Savior from original and actual sin and their effects. Again, 4 Kitty for drawing our attention to the forgotten teaching of original sin.

  6. John,

    Thanks for adding that. I’m sure I didn’t get what is intended out perfectly. I completely agree with you that every Christian church needs to have sinners like me in their pews. And hopefully because we are there, we realize we need the forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ.
    Many people (sorry, used that general term again) seem to think Jesus is our friend, and everyone will be saved, regardless of what they believe. It is what is being taught in the world today, and so has come into some churches. When I say “many churches”, those would refer to many of the liberal church bodies among us today. Whether they are still Christian or not, I don’t know, but many of them still claim to be Christian, but if they have gotten rid of the Law, are they? We don’t have the Father without Jesus, and we don’t have Jesus without the Father. And we get both those through the Holy Spirit, so we can’t split the Trinity. We need both the Law and the Gospel.

  7. @David Rosenkoetter #5

    Clarification on my point 2 at the end. Jesus’ saying that the man’s blindness was not his or his parents’ fault demonstrates point 3. Jesus speaking dispelling the disciples’ question set aright their misunderstanding of the born-blind-guy. That’s addressing man vs. man, point 2.

    Thanks be to Jesus, we don’t have to wait for Him to redeem us from original sin itself. He’s called us His own in Baptism, where He’s lavished upon us already the eternal life He grants through His birth, death and resurrection.

    Okay, part of the hymn, “The Night Will Soon Be Ending” (LSB 337, stanza 3) is appropriate here. “As old as sin’s perversion Is mercy’s vast design: God brings a new creation–This Child its seal and sign.”

  8. Kari :
    … It is what is being taught in the world today, and so has come into some churches. When I say “many churches”, those would refer to many of the liberal church bodies among us today….

    Kari – I think it is correct to suggest that the “liberal churches” are willing to fellowship with folks whom those in the “conservative churches” might label as “manifest sinners”. Based on that information, alone, I think it would incorrect to conclude that such churches have either given up on the Law or teach that, regardless, everyone will be saved.

    I would further and suggest that all Christian churches – conservative churches included – accept behaviors that the Word says are sinful because the world says such behaviors okay. How many of us, even those of use who worship faithfully, keep the first and third commandments? How many of us love our neighbors as ourselves? How many of us husbands have ever loved our wives as Christ loved the church? How many of us husbands have looked upon a woman other than our wife and anticipate that we will do so again, tomorrow? How many of us have acted in anger toward our neighbor and rationalized our actions with selfish motives? How many of us manage our personal finances motivated by greed? etc. etc.

    My point, quite simply, is that, if we choose to judge people on the basis of a checklist of sins, it would not take very long to construct a list that condemns each of us many times over. In fact, in Romans, Paul did that. But, Paul also reminded us that God shows His love for us in this, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. As I suggested above, our fellowship is based in God’s grace, which unites us, not in rooting out our sins which divide us.

  9. #4 Kitty :

    The belief that many people, as well as churches, used to have in original sin has also disappeared.

    … In that case why should we be surprised or even interested

    If you want to achieve life #9, you’ve got to be more curious, Kitty.

  10. @John #8

    I used to be in the ELCA and left because the liberal accepting churches were not safe for my children. Because of their willingness to embrace bold and flagrant unrepentant public sinners and their sin without exhorting them to repent, I felt my children’s spiritual lives were at risk. Our culture is too adult oriented. We need to consider that such things are harmful to children. We owe our children to teach them what is right, and it is far too confusing for them when you just accept all manner of sin uncritically.

  11. Mrs. Hume – our culture is sin-oriented in many and various ways. It is not safe for children – it is not safe for adults, either.

    It is easy to see and to condemn some sins, especially some sins against the sixth commandment. But, we have become oblivious to other sins, especially variations of sins against the first, third, fifth, seventh, eighth and tenth commandments. When we say that we refuse to fellowship with homosexuals, yet routinely fellowship with greedy businessmen, we bear false witness to God’s Law. Worse, we bear false witness to the Gospel.

    Jesus is our haven in this dangerous place. Jesus has told us that all sinners are welcome. How can we say less?

  12. “When we say that we refuse to fellowship with homosexuals, yet routinely fellowship with greedy businessmen, we bear false witness to God’s Law.”

    You know, I just find that an outrageous statement. What greedy businessmen? Do you just imagine that they are greedy? Have you approached them privately about their greediness? I am not aware of such in my congregation. So, I can’t just assume a person is guilty of some secret sin. I am talking about blatant public unrepentant sin. Obviously we are all sinners, but some seem to feel entitled to unrepentant sin. I think that is confusing to children.

    I reject the view that unrepentant public sin must be accepted and embraced just because we are, of course, all sinners. The pastor preaches sermons to encourage people to recognize and repent of private sins that only individuals are aware of. However, we all have a duty to protect children from the abuse we are aware of. Leading children the wrong way is not okay.

  13. Mrs. Hume :
    You know, I just find that an outrageous statement.

    So do I. But sin in all of its manifestations is pretty outrageous. That, I think, was the fundamental point of Kari’s blog.

    Mrs. Hume :
    What greedy businessmen? Do you just imagine that they are greedy?

    Short answer, yes. It is not my intention to start a political debate. But, you can’t take a basic course in economics without noticing that greed is one of the drivers of the free-market. We cannot function in this economy without a measure of greed in our hearts and a little leaven leaveneth the whole loaf. So, when I reference the greedy businessman, I am talking about myself as much as the person next to me in the pew.

    And, as a side note, Scripture has a lot more to say about greed than it does about sexuality. That message about greed is pretty unequivocal. I picked greed as an example because it is so pervasive in our society that we all take it for granted and, thus, it goes unnoticed.

    Mrs. Hume :
    I reject the view that unrepentant public sin must be accepted and embraced just because we are, of course, all sinners. /p>

    I’m not suggesting that we accept unrepentant sin. Instead, I am rejecting the notion that we can determine who is/is not a penitent sinner solely on the basis of comparing people to a checklist of some of the manifestations of sin.

    I am confident that each of us confesses our private sins. But, we continue to sin privately. How does that make us any more penitent than the person who confesses a sin that is known to others but continues to commit that sin?

  14. John, when the church body issues public statements that condone having practicing gays as clergy, it has publicly embraced sin and it has not called them to repentance. The fact that there are greedy people in the world generally doesn’t mean that I am in fellowship with them at my congregation. I said, I am not aware of such greedy businessmen. I am also not aware of gays at my church, but let’s assume there are some who just don’t tell us. I have no problem with that. I have a problem with embracing public unrepentant sin and having clergy teach my children that homosexual behavior is not sinful rather than teach what is actually in the Bible. I would have the same problem with the clergy teaching my children falsely regarding greed. If the Bible calls it sin, then it is. We don’t have the latitude to teach otherwise.

  15. “So, when I reference the greedy businessman, I am talking about myself as much as the person next to me in the pew.”

    What does this mean? Are you saying you cheat your employees to unfairly enrich yourself and brag about it publicly to everyone at church and then expect them to just smile and be your friend? Do you expect folks to celebrate your greediness? Are you serious? Do you teach your kids to follow your example and not judge you or expect you to change?

  16. Jesus came to save sinners, not the righteous, and we know none of us is righteous in and of ourselves. It is only through Jesus and His righteousness we are saved.

    It is as Mrs Hume has said. When a church quits calling sin a sin, they are embracing it, and that is when it has stopped being considered a sin. They don’t love their neighbor if they allow it to go on without telling them of it. Eventually, they could fall from faith because of it. John, we are all rotten miserable sinners. I don’t think I called any certain sins worse than others in my post. We all need to be aware we are sinners. When we start to justify ourselves in our sin, we are rejecting Jesus forgiveness freely given to us. And yes, He forgives us even those sins we are unaware of. I don’t think open sins like you are referring to are those type of sins, though. I am speaking about our world today, and how we can’t any longer say some thing is a sin because it is not accepted to do so. It can be issues like living together before marriage, which seems like the church has quit even addressing anymore. Remember, we of the church are in the world, but not of it. Just because the world accepts certain behaviors does not mean that the church has to do that. We are to love our neighbors/brothers enough to go to them in love.

  17. Kari – I’m not suggesting that the church ought to quit calling sin a sin. And, I’m not suggesting that the church ought to embrace sin. I am not suggesting that we ought to justify ourselves in our sins. I am suggesting that Christ embraced sinners – while they were still sinners. The church, as the Body of Christ, likewise ought to embrace sinners. After all, Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.

    I agree that God forgives those sins of which we are unaware. But, I did not refer to such sins. Rather, I referred to those sins which are open to me but may not be open to you. And, if we are honest with ourselves and as serious about the Law as you suggested in your initial post, I suspect that each of us is well aware of sins that we do not openly acknowledge to others.

    Thus, if we are to exclude others based on their open sin, we should also exclude ourselves on the basis of the sins we know that we commit

  18. Christe eleison (Christ have mercy)! As a practicing charismatic I frequently shake my head at how we so easily imagine that The Holy Spirit of God and His written Word He authored via human penmen (how thrilling that must have been for them to be so used of God!) can be said to be even part of our life, much less central or foundational while in actual practice fondling sin to the extent of it idolatrously having the preeminence (James 4:4 Ye adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God.), contradicting Colossians 1:18 that attributes preeminence to Christ: “And He is The Head of the body, the Church [His Church!]: Who is The Beginning, The Firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence.”
    Yet as Pastor Piper has wisely shared, fleeing FROM sin can never be enough, we must flee TO God. To fast rightly, one must turn from physical food to feast on God to satisfy our souls as Jesus did:
    continued below.

  19. continued from above
    “[a.] He humbled you and
    [b.] let you be hungry, and
    [c.] fed you with manna which you did not know [Exo_16:31 The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey.], nor did your fathers know,
    [d.] that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.
    >Mat_4:4 ” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'””)
    [2] that He, not it, was most pleasant to the eyes (Psa_27:1-4) and
    [3] He The Uncreated Tree of Life to be desired to make one wise, not the one in the Garden of Eden.
    Soli Deo Gloria!

  20. I briefly read people above talking about “gay-” and “homosexual-” When is Christ’s Church (His, not ours!) going to stop being brainwashed by the world into having her thinking controlled by worldly propaganda lies contradicting and rejecting the true Word of God. As “The gay invention” shows conclusively, this is both a moral error and an error of language (http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=18-10-036-f) (homo=same+sex=opposite is a deranged oxymoron rational people cannot use).
    Soli Deo Gloria!

  21. “He forgives us, because we have grace (God’s undeserved love) through faith. Yet, in order to receive that gift of grace, we are to be penitent, humble sinners at the foot of the cross.”


    Might I recommend that you read Giertz’s The Hammer of God? As Dr. Nagel said, it is a book that every Lutheran should read once a year lest one fall into the mire of neo-pietism. Particularly Book One, the conversation between Henrik Savonius and Linder, focuses on the confusion manifested in the above quote from your article. E.g.,

    “For it is a blessed gospel that one is brought into despair, not by sin, nor by the superior force of Satan, but by the Holy Spirit of God, who would save one’s poor soul from becoming a legalist and hypocrite, and whose purpose in it all has only been to let the overpowering glory of Christ shine forth. In other words, Henrik, the Spirit would show us that one may receive forgiveness without making atonement by one’s sorrow over sin and without any personal merit or self-betterment; that one may be a child of God, one’s sinful nature notwithstanding…

    Before, I was in despair over my people at Frojerum and at their impenitence. I see now that this was because I kept thinking that everything depended on what we should do, for when I saw so little of true repentance and victory over sin, helplessness crept into my heat. I counted and summed up all that they did, and not the smallest percentage of the debt was paid. But now I see that which is done, and I see that the whole debt is paid. Now, therefore, I go about my duties as might a prison warden who carries in his pocket a letter of pardon for all his criminals. Do you wonder that I am happy? No I see everything in the sun’s light. If God has done so much already, surely there is hpope for what remains.”

    Savonius is unconvinced. His next question: “But what about the sinners then? Will they not become still more hardened?” Linder’s response addresses that.

    I highly recommend Giertz or, if you have read it, a re-read.


  22. Thank you, Pr Kirchner. I really loved that book the first time I read it, and will read it again, as it’s been a few years. And yes, I know you are right. We are forgiven freely, yet isn’t there a danger to souls if they are not even taught that sins the Bible says are sins are sins anymore? They read they are sins, but reject what scripture tells us? I know it is God that works repentance in our hearts, so even that is not our own doing. Yet, I have a problem with people claiming things are not sinful when scripture clearly tells us they are. That could harden a persons heart, and possibly they could fall from the faith eventually.
    I will re-read that book, and I recommend it to others, too. I know it is very easy to slip into pietism.
    Lord have mercy!

  23. Rev. Don Kirchner :
    “He forgives us, because we have grace (God’s undeserved love) through faith. Yet, in order to receive that gift of grace, we are to be penitent, humble sinners at the foot of the cross.”

    This quote is not consistent with the way that I was instructed regarding Law/Gospel; Baptism; or, the Office of the Keys. We receive the give of God’s grace, as a gift, through faith, trusting in God’s promise of forgiveness and salvation. Repentance is a faithful response to the gift we already have received – not the means by which we receive the gift.

    We remain free to reject the gift. Failure to repent would be indicative of such a rejection.
    But, given the reality that all penitent sinners will commit some of the same sins today for which they prayed for forgiveness, how are sinners able to determine who among us is or is not penitent?

    As a Lutheran, I understand sin on three levels. Sin, “original sin” is the big problem. By my own doing, I am alienated from God and unable to restore the relationship with God, the purpose for which I am created.

    Then, there are “sins” – the many and various ways in which I break God’s Law because I am unable to do otherwise. These may be unknown to me, known by me but not known to others, known by me and known to others, or denied by me but known to others. Regardless, they all are the same thing, i.e. outward manifestations of the original sin to which I am captive.

    Third, there is the “sin against the Holy Spirit” – the rejection of God’s promise.

    I have difficulty with conversations like this because I have no confidence in my own ability (or in anyone else’s ability) to know where to draw the line. I do not think it is possible for us to know who has sinned against the Holy Spirit strictly on an assessment of the various ways in which sin is at work in their lives. And, if we think about the Law through the lens of the doctrine of justification, embracing sinners actually shows a greater respect for the Law than does constructing a check-list of proof-text sins to determine who is guilty of antinomianism.

    I do not question the authority of the church. But, the church’s authority must always be used with great care because that authority has been entrusted to sinners – yes, forgiven sinners, but still sinners. Thus, I’d suggest that the authority is used inappropriately when used to drawn boundaries among denominations.

  24. John,

    Note that the quote is Kari’s quote, not mine. I too have a problem with it, as I addressed.

    IOW, forgiveness is not conditional. He does not forgive us “because we….” “We” has nothing to do with it. God does not forgive our sins because we are sorry for them and repent of them. And He certainly does not forgive our sins because we have faith (intuitu fide.)

    Why does God forgive us? As one pastor has stated, “He finds the reason in Himself.” In His great mercy, He does it for the sake of Christ and Christ’s work upon the cross. The cross- there is our forgivness. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sin, according to the riches of his grace.” [Eph 1:7] It’s His grace, not ours.

    “Yet, in order to receive that gift of grace, we are to be penitent, humble sinners at the foot of the cross.”

    Then I fear that we all are dead in our sin. For the focus is right back on us and measuring. How penitent must one be in order to receive forgiveness? How humble must one be in order to receive “that gift of grace”? How much inpenitence and lack of humility will cause one to fall from faith? Running things in the way of the law leaves one uncertain and, eventually, dead, for the law demands perfection.

    Faith is no big deal. Faith ebbs and flows. Jesus is the big deal. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He’s put His name on you., and He promises never to let you go. You are baptized!

    Thanks be to God!

  25. John :
    ….. We receive the give of God’s grace, as a gift, through faith, trusting in God’s promise of forgiveness and salvation. Repentance is a faithful response to the gift we already have received – not the means by which we receive the gift.

    This is incorrect.

    Repentance both precedes and follows faith. It is true that we live a life of repentance because we are sinners who are in constant need of the mirror of God’s Law to show us our sin as well as the balm of the Gospel which forgives that sin. As Christians, then, we rejoice to respond to the Law with repentance.

    But repentance is not merely a response to the gift of we have received. It is also a response to the truth of the Law and can occur in the narrow sense apart from faith. In fact, we can not receive faith if we stubbornly refuse to repent for faith in the forgiveness of sins depends upon recognizing that we are sinners. Both can occur simultaneously, as when a baby is baptized and subsequently raised in the faith. But faith can never ever under any circumstance exist without repentance.

    It is this which I believe this discussion is trying to point out. Faith can not exist separate from repentance, therefore, churches which do not preach repentance also can not offer forgiveness.

    However, I believe the root problem is a loss of the Gospel rather than a loss of the Law.

    When some churches preach the Law but only present weak Gospel, they proclaim that a sinner can not be loved by God unless he ceases to be a sinner. Such churches will maintain what outwardly seems a strict law but is, in fact, a vastly weaker law than that which is proclaimed in the 10 commandments and the Sermon on the Mount etc. In losing the Gospel and focusing on the Law, they have, in effect abrogated the Law for, lacking the answer of the Gospel, they can never present it in its full power.

    When others preach “Gospel” alone without the Law, they too destroy both Law and Gospel. Just as the “conservative” churches sent the message “You must stop sinning in order that God can love you,” the liberal churches send essentially the same message, “you must stop sinning by pretending what you are doing is not sin in order for God to love you.” Neither, in the end, is presenting either true Law nor true Gospel.

    For this reason no congregation, denomination or pastor should ever under any circumstances proclaim Law without the Gospel nor Gospel without the Law. Both must occur together, every time, every place – NO EXCEPTIONS

  26. @Rev. Don Kirchner #24
    Rev. Don – I understand and my comment was to all those participating in this conversation. Please accept my apology if I posted in a way that lead you to think I was getting personal.

    @andrew #25
    Andrew – “I believe that I cannot believe in my Lord Jesus Christ, or come to Him. But, the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…” I agree with your comments about how Law/Gospel work together. But, I’m having great difficulty understanding, from a Lutheran perspective, the suggestion that repentance precedes faith (I agree with the suggestion that repentance follows faith).

    I also agree with what you said about “weak Gospel”. In fact, it is my understanding that Luther’s notion of “antinomianism” was a reference to works righteousness more than it was a reference to “Gospel reductionism”. (I have read only a few things that Luther had to say on that subject and am open to correction if someone posts a more complete description of how Luther used that term).

    I can understand why confessional Lutherans might conclude that “liberal” churches send a Gospel-only message, but I don’t think that conclusion is correct. It relates to one of the points that I have tried to make in this conversation. I think there is a difference between an openness to sinners, irrespective of stripe, and openness to the manifestations of sin. Your conclusion does not seem to consider that conclusion.

  27. Thank you, Andrew! I think you said what I meant well.

    I realize God is the One who even works repentance in us. I’m thankful for that! All glory goes to God, for sending us Jesus to forgive us, even me!!! I believe my last paragraph states how we need both the Law and then the very sweet Gospel is so much more precious! Maybe I need to reword the preceding paragraph, but I know what I was trying to say. I think this topic is a good thing to discuss because we can learn from each other while discussing it. So, thank you to all who have contributed in this discussion. I know it makes us uncomfortable, and that is maybe a good thing. We must we are sinners then. I think the world today has been teaching there is no right and no wrong. That everything is up to your own beliefs and opinions. We know there is right and wrong, according to Holy Scripture.

    I thought of writing on this topic when we were starting to study 1 John. (We still are. It’s barely begun) People were wanting to walk in the darkness, saying they had no sin. God is light, and no darkness is in Him, so we aren’t to continue walking in darkness. The blood of Jesus cleanses us of all our sins. (Read 1 John 1) It sounds like living lives of repentance through our baptism and under the cross (daily we are to die to our sins) We can’t do it, of course, but God can for us. What language can we use so people don’t read what we say wrong? I’d never want to put anything back on what we do, so we think its us that did it. I know God is the One who enables us to repent. I am so thankful, I am baptized, and that faith was given me as a gift, and that will never ever fail me. I know God will never let me go. When Satan, the world and my sinful flesh assails me, I can claim “I am baptized!” Satan will never get me out of my Saviors hands. That is very reassuring.

    I read that the Law is for unrepentant sinners, and the Gospel is for those who are crushed by their sins/the law. (Was that Luther who said that?) I hope the unrepentant is brought to repentance through the Law, because no sin is ever too big for God to forgive.

  28. Kari :What language can we use so people don’t read what we say wrong?

    Kari – I think one answer to your question is to remember that Baptism establishes a personal relationship between God and the believer. Baptism also establishes relationships among believers.

    Repentance likewise is a personal matter between God and the believer. We mis-communicate what we believe about repentance when we focus to little on confessing our own sins and, instead, focus too much on confessing the sins of others who profess to believe in God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. We likewise mis-communicate what we believe about repentance when we too quickly conclude that other denominations have abandoned the Law, based only on the observation that they are willing to tolerate believers with whom we might not be willing to fellowship.

  29. I’ve watched this discussion shift so I don’t think this is just a theological one anymore. I’m not sure how much it ever was. I don’t consider myself a great theologian and even less a logician, but this looks like a logical fallacy. If there is one like this, I think it would be called, “if not all, than none.” Have I ever heard a name for this kind of fallacy? I must admit no, so I’m struggling to define it, but I think I see it in operation here. It goes something like this: If we can’t label any particular sin and say it is wrong, then we can’t do it for anything. This fallacy has the effect of binding our hands. It’s like what we see when people are overwhelmed by a terrific need. If we come upon a disaster and see hundreds of people injured, some of us might be so overwhelmed we would say, “I don’t even know where to start. If I can’t help everyone, then I won’t try to help anyone.”

    Let’s identify and then attempt to remove this fallacy in the situation of this discussion. Every Christian is responsible to examine his own heart to determine his own sins. If I say, “Because I find a propensity in myself toward a particular sin, even though I am contrite over it and embrace Christ’s atonement for my sake, I’m still not able to label another’s,” this would be a case of “if not all, than none.” I’m still a sinner; I will always be a sinner, but if being a sinner disqualifies me from ever denouncing any kind of sin, then no one has ever been able to denounce sin (except Jesus) and no sin will ever be denounced if not directly from Jesus’ mouth.

    This is a very dangerous thought line, but if we don’t identify the faulty logical structure on which the theological arguments are being built, then we will keep spinning our wheels trying to argue this theologically.

  30. Rev. Jarvis:

    If there is one like this, I think it would be called, “if not all, than none.” Have I ever heard a name for this kind of fallacy? I must admit no, so I’m struggling to define it, but I think I see it in operation here. It goes something like this: If we can’t label any particular sin and say it is wrong, then we can’t do it for anything. This fallacy has the effect of binding our hands. It’s like what we see when people are overwhelmed by a terrific need.

    It’s known as the “Perfect Solution Fallacy” or the “Nirvana Fallacy” which argues against a solution or propose action on the basis that, while it contains good aspects, it is not a complete or perfect solution or plan, and therefore should be rejected.

    This fallacy was used by some of our Founding Fathers who were threatening to reject the Declaration of Independence, and later the Constitution, because they contained no statement specifically opposing slavery. Finally they were convinced to support the documents, which while not perfect, offered improvements and solutions to serious existing conditions.

    Here the argument is that we cannot have a strong position condemning homosexuality as a sin because we do not have comparable and consistent public positions condemning other just-as-heinous sins.

  31. @Pr. Rob Jarvis #29

    We only need to turn to Rom. 2:17-3:9ff to see how the Law levels the playing field for all us. Manifest sins are the outward expression of our inward thoughts. See also Matt. 15:9, 19.
    To say that churches, let alone whole denominations, have lost the preaching of the Law means that they have, by default, lost the preaching of the Gospel. And, the loss of both is an evidence that textual preaching, using the language of Scripture in sermons and Bible studies is sadly on the decline.

    Now, Pastor Wilken will can correct me on my next couple thoughts as reference his sermon diagnostic. But, part of evaluating a good sermon or Bible study, etc. is stepping back seeing what our problem is. Our Lord, and indeed His Word, shows no favoritism in this regard. (Deut. 10:17) The language of the text or pericope points out various sins of thought, word, and action. Why? To give us some moral code to with which to rescue ourselves? No. To drive us to repentance as they return our trust to our Savior Jesus Christ.

    Our problem is not just manifest sins or ignored sins or discounted sins. The Law levels our playing field so that the cross Christ alone remains standing as its fulfillment. And, in returning us to Himself through repentance, (Matt. 4:17, Luke 24:47), He washes us again and again in His forgiveness.

  32. David RosenkoetterOur problem is not just manifest sins or ignored sins or discounted sins. The Law levels our playing field so that the cross Christ alone remains standing as its fulfillment. And, in returning us to Himself through repentance, (Matt. 4:17, Luke 24:47), He washes us again and again in His forgiveness.

    And, that really is the point. God’s promise of Grace has been fulfilled in Christ and it is a promise that we receive through faith, faith alone.

  33. Good theology is often a matter of good logic. Paul was one of the best logicians we’ve ever seen. He used the Perfect Solution Fallacy (PSF), which relies on false dichotomies. It’s right there in Romans 6:1: “Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?” If one sin earns a little bit of grace, then a whole lot of sin earns us a whole lot of grace; so shouldn’t we remain in our sin to remain in grace? Paul’s sanctified common sense answer is altogether different: “May it never be!”

    So to the matter at hand: Sinners alongside sinners and checklists for sinners &etc.

    PSF: I am a sinner. In my sin I cannot see my own sin well enough to examine myself against the Law. Therefore, the Law cannot be a mirror. (So why have the Confession of sins on Sunday?)

    PSF: My pastor is a sinner. He cannot discern his own sin under the Law as a sinner. How can he be held apply the Law to others? Therefore, the binding key of the Office of the keys does not exist. If the binding key is no longer applicable, then what of the loosening key? (So pastors can’t absolve anyone, can they?)

    PSF: The church is full of hypocrites. They are all sinners just like me. So why should I go? (It can be just me-n-my-Jesus at home.)

    PSF: If I break one Commandment, I am held accountable for all. That’s heavy, dude. I can’t ever hope to live up to that standard. So I may as well just live as I want to, and expect the same from all my friends. (All we are saying…. Is give sin a chance…)

    By consistent and continuous application of PSF, we have, not Lutheran theology, but that of Contemporary American Evangelicalism. Wittenberg dressed up in a Geneva gown.

    Calvin and Zwingli solved the conundrum of justification with the Nirvana Solution Fallacy. Why are some saved and not other? Simple. God elects some to salvation and others to damnation. Can’t have any perfect solutions, not even from God’s side of the economy, so justification is for the elect—and not merely the elect, but the believing elect. Let’s not bother ourselves with issues like 1Peter 3:18, btw.

    I bring in those to blokes because it brings us to the point at hand. Calvin, Zwingli, and the Reformed of today ditched the efficacy of the Word for the sake of proof-texting their way to claiming “justification by faith” that doesn’t have the Blood of Christ in it.

    The same thing happens when we PSF theological matters. We lose sight of the efficacy of God’s Word.

    Confessing the Close of the Commandments after reciting the Ten Commandments teaches the Family of God (the Baptized!) that they *do* keep God’s Law *in Christ.* “He promises grace and every blessing to *all* who keep these commandments.” Who has kept these commandments? Only one, His Son. Yet that same keeping is given *to me* by grace with every blessing in my Baptism. “Therefore, we should also love and trust and gladly do what He commands.” There’s that Mt 28:19-20 thing connected to baptizing and “teaching them to observe/keep/hold onto all that I commanded you.” Open unrepentant sin is, as Heb 6:6 describes it, putting Christ’s crucifixion to shame.

    Paul was not hesitant to correct open sin in Corinth (1Cor 5:1). He held to what Calvin and Zwingli could not, the efficacy of God’s Word. When we look at God’s Commandments as a mere checklist, we strip them of their efficacy. They are catechesis, informative as well as formative in their use. Each of Luther’s explanations is wrapped with vocation in Christ. He concludes with a healthy dose of Gospel, a preparation for what comes next. Now dear baptized, that you know you need your God, let us discover who He is by way of the Apostles’ Creed.

    Sinner among sinners? Yes, so we are. But that doesn’t mean we are not to call a thing what it is. That doesn’t mean those living in open unrepentant sin are not to be held unaccountable to themselves, and to the Body of Christ. It is Contemporary Protestant Evangelicalism, which strips God’s Word of its efficacy, that claims “Do not judge lest you be judged.” (Mt 7:1) while at the same time it ignores “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup (1Cor 11:28), and “This is . . .”

    Efficacy trumps fallacy. And really all of this was truly a Baptism thing. It’s a matter of living in it. Daily and much. Baptism isn’t a dunk-n-run or a sprinkle-n-go. It’s living in Christ’s death and resurrection. Which means the Laws He kept, the very ones we hold before our eyes in the Catechism. They aren’t a checklist. They aren’t some outmoded Mosaic, pre-awakened-genetic-sociological-societal regulations. God’s Law is still the ebb and flow of the Family of God as she lives in her Baptism—knowing that she sins much but that Jesus’ grace covers even more. “Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Ro 7:24-25

  34. Thank you, Carl Vehse, for the name and definition of the Perfect Solution Fallacy. Thank you, Emily, for your thorough treatment of this fallacy. This was the exactly the kind of back-up I was looking for.

    Although I am just one person in this discussion and a Johnny-come-lately at that, I hope the other readers understand why I think this conversation should continue in this direction. It was already progressing this way from the start, but it became especially evident when John said in #8 “I would further and [sic] suggest that all Christian churches – conservative churches included – accept behaviors that the Word says are sinful because the world says such behaviors [are] okay. How many of us, even those of use who worship faithfully, keep the first and third commandments?” That was when it was clear the Perfect Solution Fallacy was in play.

    John suggests that all Christian churches accept behaviors the Word says are sinful. I would disagree. They are not accepted, and if a church is not condemning sins against the first and third commandment or the seventh commandment with its condemnations against greed or any others, then it is failing in its mission. I don’t know the number of churches that don’t, but that doesn’t change the fact this is part of the Church’s mission on its way to proclaiming the Gospel.

    Having said this, I would maintain that John’s observations would be held by a lot of church going people. As a result, these people (and I would think I would be safe to say it is at least a majority) consider it hypocritical to single out particular sins. The non-church going public would be likely to think the very same thing, because they see people going to church, boldly sinning in the ways John describes and see nothing to make them think it is being addressed in church. Then they hear about some other churches condemning particular sins and consider it hypocritical. BTW, the sins for which these churches are being condemned for condemning (try to say that a couple times!) are sins society once thought was wrong, but now has given its approval.

    The non-church going public, and the majority of church goers create quite a force to contend against But I think it is critical we do so by pointing out the basis for their accusations against these particular churches is founded on faulty reasoning, faulty logic informing their theology. They have fallen into the Perfect Solution Fallacy.

    Unintentionally, John has clearly exposed it. Although Emily has already explained it, I would like to zero in on the Romans 6:1 passage. Paul says, “What then are we to say? Are we to continue sinning, that grace may abound?” Paul is thinking and speaking logically. He speaks to people who would look at themselves, see that they are not able to control their sinful natures, and despair of living a life of glory to God and service to their neighbor. “Shall we continue sinning? We might as well, at least we’ll be forgiven.” How different from the attitude of the tax collector in Lk 19, who also despairs, but in faith cries out, “Lord, have mercy!” Paul wants to nip the kind of thinking he describes in the bud. “You think because you can’t keep all of them, then you shouldn’t try to keep any of them?”

    I need to diverge a little from our discussion and anticipate some objections. Of course we are talking sanctification. In Christ in our baptism, the whole Law is kept. But our neighbor needs us to try to keep the law in service to him. We also need to try to keep the Law to remind ourselves how helpless we are and how desperately we need God’s mercy in Christ.

    Back to the discussion at hand. Paul takes the Perfect Solution Fallacy and states it in such simple terms it is easy to see how false it is. Now I would suggest we would do the same for the sake of those who think churches are hypocritical for pointing out particular sins are sins.

    The premise is the same, the terms are slightly different. Again, the Perfect Solution Fallacy in what we have seen in this thread would say, “Since no one is perfect, no one has the right to say another is sinning.” If this is so, then no sin could ever be condemned. For that matter, Jesus did not give to His church on earth the key to bind sins after all. And that unfortunately, is the logical conclusion. It proves that Kari is right.

    Now, having exposed this fallacy, I hope we can utlilize this understanding in our discussions with those who would condemn churches who condemn particular sins. It’s a logical argument before it’s a theological one.

  35. I heard a sermon awhile ago in which the LCMS preacher dared to proclaim:
    “If you do not want to humbled, then you need to leave the church. If you do not want to be called out on your sins, then you need to leave the church.” He then read Jesus words in Mark 1:15, saying,”Jesus first sermon consisted of these 3 words, ‘Repent and believe!'”
    Nothing more need be said.

  36. @Carl #35
    Thanks, Carl. I appreciate this report, because it proves pastors and churches do condemn “ordinary” sins. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard TW say something like , “Has your pastor called you a thief, an adulterer, a murderer, and a liar? If he hasn’t, he should.” The first of Luther’s 95 theses says, “When Jesus says ‘Repent!’ he calls us to a life of repentance.”

    We ought to be willing to be condemned for our violation of the Law. When we are condemned, we see our need for a Savior and then we see God’s mercy when we see He has already provided Him. If we allow ourselves to be condemned–and I hope whoever goes to a church where they are not condemned (properly, especially for our constant violation of the 1st commandment) they will find one where they are–then we are not hypocrites to point out the snow job people are getting when churches agree with society and say certain sins are now acceptable. We can’t tolerate being shut down because we allow ourselves to fall victim to an argument based on a logical fallacy. Too many people buy into the fallacy, because they don’t know so-called “good” people can and are being condemned for basic damnable sins like idolatry and greed and selfish motives, plus so much more (all manifestations of idolatry). They need to know churches should and do condemn these kind of sins, so they know we are not hypocrites to point out others appear to be failing in their mission.

  37. @Deaconess Emily Carder #33

    Well put! For this reason, too, we with Luther pray that our Lord will “keep me this day also from sin and every evil…” (mrning prayer) and that He “would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong.” (evening prayer)

  38. If there is a logical error in this conversation, it could well be those who understand the distinction between sin and sinner when applying the Law to themselves, but do not make that distinction when applying the Law to others.

  39. @David Rosenkoetter #39

    David – I don’t know how to make it much clearer than what I posted this morning, but I will try.

    I generally agree with what you had to say in post #31. But, what I hear is some of the other posts in this thread (and others on related topics), are people who understand how repentance works in their own lives – the fulfillment of God’s promise that is ours by faith, and the faithful acknowledgement that we are poor, miserable sinners in need of God’s love. But, some of those same folks sound as though they are little too quick to judge whether others are repentant – based on the fact that they continue to sin. In other words, they correctly understand the distinction between sin and being a sinner when it comes to their own repentance, but apply a different standard when evaluating the repentance of others.

  40. Thank you, Alferd. You are right about this. Perhaps we do appear too quick to judge others, although my observation is we would do better pointing out the failure of those who have the responsibility to name sin, by pointing to their mission to preach Law and Gospel. And yet this is not to be done in a haughty, self-righteous way, but in a way that it is done with tears, so we don’t appear to think we are above the Law, because we’re not.

    This discussion is happening in another place, and one of the contributors wrote this, “…our needing admonition never keeps us from giving it, but only informs our attitude in doing so.” Our admonition informs our attitude when we choose to give further admonition to another, particularly another who calls himself Christian. In other words, the admonition directed to us, if it is done properly, has the effect of humbling us. If we recognize the truth of the statement, “There, but for the grace of God go I” which a 16th century pastor named John Bradford allegedly spoke when he saw a bunch of prisoners being led to the scaffold, then we would not be so quick to judge. I think Paul the apostle is making the same point in Gal 6:1.

    If we are receiving proper admonition and we are properly admonishing others in return, then the Perfect Solution Fallacy has no more power. We should no longer be seen as hypocrites for trying to warn people. We can point out they have swallowed a logical fallacy and give ourselves a place at the table in the theological discussions, because at this point, very few will listen to us. This is why it’s critical we labor to shift this discussion so people see the logical fallacy first.

  41. Pr. Rob – I agree that there are proper ways to give and to receive admonition.

    To be honest, I do not hear a spirit of gentleness nor do I hear much humility in the admonitions offered by confessional Lutherans over against those who do not align with your notion of pure doctrine. And, an appeal to the “perfect solution fallacy” sounds like an effort to rationalize the continued use of a double standard.

  42. I don’t know if you will see this, Alferd, but I’m sorry to hear about your experience. It is quite easy for our sinful nature to become proud to have pure doctrine, rather than humbled to have been given it. It only means we needs to be admonished further, and then offered the sweet Gospel which assures us, even for our pride Christ was punished.

    I hope you will give me the benefit of the doubt, and see that our efforts to get the discussion to start as a logical fallacy is not to continue a double standard, but rather so that we can be part of the discussion. At this point, because people won’t give us the benefit of the doubt and see this discussion as I have described it, we are not. Hypothetically speaking, if the attitude you saw among those who condemn these sins were as you hoped, would you allow the perfect solution fallacy argument to begin to guide this discussion?

  43. Pr. Rob Jarvis Hypothetically speaking, if the attitude you saw among those who condemn these sins were as you hoped, would you allow the perfect solution fallacy argument to begin to guide this discussion?

    To be honest, I’m not sure what you mean by that question, Pr. Rob. But, my initial answer would be probably not. I say that for four reasons:

    1. There is a perfect solution and it is not a fallacy. In a word, that solution is GRACE.
    2. I’m not sure I understand what you and the other person who introduced that term mean by it.
    3. I am disinclined to discuss issues based on buzz words and phrases because such conversations tend to convolute rather than clarify complex issues.
    4. To the extent that I do understand the term, I don’t think it is relevant to what I said in post #41.

    If you are concerned about the spiritual welfare of the practicing homosexual, relate with him as an individual person, a person created in God’s image, and not as a caricature used to define a group of people. That is the way that Jesus relates with us. Ask him what he believes about his sinful condition (not specifically his orientation or sexual behavior) and what he believes about God’s promise of forgiveness and salvation fulfilled in the person of Jesus.

    If he acknowledges that he is a sinner, he confesses that Christ is his Savior and he asks God to help him to amend his sinful life, what more do you need to know to conclude that he is repentant? If he continues to live in a committed homosexual relationship and you are inclined to retain his sins, I encourage you to a serious self-examination. Have you really acknowledged every sin that you are capable of knowing that you have committed? Do you really intend to stop committing every sin on that list of sins? Have you really tried hard enough? Have you been successful? Do you really want God to judge you on that basis. Be honest! If, like me, you answered NO to each of those questions (and I don’t think a confessional Lutheran could answer otherwise), you to reassess either the quality of your own repentance or the quality of the homosexual’s.

    As for me, I am content to fellowship with the practicing homosexual who confesses that he, like me, is a a sinner and that he, like me, is in need of God’s saving grace in Jesus. I say that with no disregard for the Law – I just know that I can’t keep it and I don’t think anyone else can, either. I say that with no confidence that I am correct in that conclusion. But, I say it with great confidence in God’s grace and great confidence that God’s promise of forgiveness and salvation is fulfilled in the life, death, resurrection, ascension and abiding presence of Jesus Christ.

  44. I hear the “world”, christian and ? asking “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” and “Why would a loving God allow….?”
    Just as good parents have to allow their children to stumble from time to time, God allows us to stumble. We are, after all, His children! The acknowledgment of sin in our lives that the Law brings to light is paramount in His design.
    Thank you Kari for a powerful article.

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